Don't let the chores break your back

Lots of patients sheepishly admit, when questioned regarding the origin of their back problem, that it all started when vacuuming. Dusting. Making the bed. Pulling laundry out of the machine. Putting the turkey into the oven. Or something along those lines. Let's face it - the home appears to be a dangerous place indeed.

There are numerous different activities in the home that are performed on a daily or at least weekly basis that can potentially be harmful to your back or your health generally, due to the combinations of bending, turning, lifting, rotating and even due to sheer monotony of repetition. The purpose of this article is to try and highlight a few key points as to how to reduce the likelihood of injuring yourself, and actually turning them into a productive part of your rehabilitative workout.

Keep your back straight

The discs in your back (the cushions between vertebrae) are most vulnerable to injury and even tearing with a combination of bending and rotating the trunk. Guess what is the most common position we get into whilst vacuuming, scrubbing the bath, ironing, making the beds, or filling the dish washer - yup, you got it. So many things in the home require us to bend and then rotate or reach. It is no surprise that there are a lot of achy backs.

Keeping your back straight ensures even distribution of weight on the discs and therefore reduces the likelihood of injury. This also enables you to activate the muscles of the back, the abdomen, the pelvic floor, and the stabilisers of the hip and shoulder girdle in an appropriate manner. The proper muscle activation if these days referred to as core stability. It means, that you are solid in your midsection, which therefore allows your limbs to move more freely and efficiently, at the same time protecting your vulnerable back.

Help with the legs

When you need to lift or pick something up - bend the legs. The hips, knees and ankles are there for precisely that purpose; so that you need not curl your spine out of shape to reach the floor. Using the legs to get down to the floor level with your hands allows you to maintain a straight back, reducing the strain on the discs, ligaments, joints and muscles of the back.

Using the legs is not only very sensible, but can be seen as a part of your training regime. People spend a lot of money these days going to gym to do squats and lunges - but here is your chance to shape the things and buttocks during your daily activities.

Keep the loads close to your body

When carrying a baby, you make sure that the baby held very secure close to your chest or hip. Anyone with a toddler will testify, that carrying them in this manner is by far easier (and a lot more comfortable) that trying to keep them at arms length. According to laws of physics, the further the object is from the body, the heavier it is to carry.

Of course, there are the awkward objects, such as laundry baskets and tellies, but then again either reducing the weight of the laundry basket (maybe make two trips) or getting someone to help with the telly are good ways maintaining good lifting and carrying technique - and the straight back.

When picking and object up the floor, either squat down or go down to one knee so that you can easily reach the object. Grab the object with both hands and lift it up to your chest. Straighten your back. Get up and move. Simple, eh? You would be surprised to know how few people actually do this - even people who have attended manual handling courses admit to doing it the bad way...

Try not to reach

When reaching with the hands you are putting yourself in danger. As stated above, the further the object is from the body, the more it weighs. Also by reaching you are putting your muscles in the back and the shoulders under a great stretch.  Generally it is not the best idea to load a muscle that is in a fully stretched position - it may go 'ping'.

It is always a good idea to have a step handy in the house. Using a step will help those of us who are 'vertically challenged' reach the upper shelves, or move around the washing machine to get into a better position to grab the washing powder off the shelf. Also when making the beds, try and go around the bed to do the corners  - there are no points awarded for being able to reach over the king size mattress to tuck the sheet under the mattress, or for being able to vacuum the bottom step all the way from the top.

Pace yourself

Is there really any need to do ironing for five straight hours without a break? Give yourself a break, do something different for a while and then come back to it. Your muscles, that are responsible of maintaining you in any given position, will thank you for the breather. The most irritating thing for any muscle is the static contraction. This usually happens, for example, when ironing. The board is either too low, which requires you to stoop and strain the low back muscles, or too high, causing you to lift your shoulders up to your ears straining the shoulder and neck muscles. These repetitive actions, with very little global movement are generally badly tolerated by muscles, as they are unable to contact and relax normally, which is required for sufficient blood flow through the muscles. When muscles at constant tension (or static contraction) the blood flow quickly ceases, causing an influx of lactic acid - which brings on the pain. So move about.

Take the crucial second

THINK! That is the most important piece of advice. How can you do what you need to do without hurting yourself. It takes less than a second. Actively remembering the previous points is good, but stopping to put them into practise is even better. Bend the knees, keep the back straight, help with the tummy muscles, use the step or move around objects - it will become second nature soon, but to get started you have to stop, think, and only then act.

If the unthinkable does happen, and you find yourself in pain, give us a call at the clinic on 01932-429584.  The chiropractors at Shepperton Chiropractic Clinic are able to treat most musculoskeletal back problems efficiently and effectively. We are also more than happy to take you through various home chores, and to teach you the appropriate technique.


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I was in so much pain last week I couldn’t imagine that I would feel this much better in 7 days
Heather Penncock

I first went to Mika About 2 months ago. I could not walk straight line or very far. I was also in pain as I have had two knee replacements. After about 3 weeks I can now walk upright and in a straight line. Also a lot of pain relief. I cannot recommend this practice enough.
Frank Whittington

I have been working with Dr Mika Janhunen of Shepperton Chirorpactic Clinic for four years. During this time he has not only been able to help me overcome various niggling injuries and to enjoy better health, but has been able to improve the performance of a number of my golf coaching clients as well. His detailed knowledge of the human body and the complexity of the golf swing movement pattern is virtually unrivalled in terms of results that I have ever seen. I will continue to refer my players to see Mika, and would encourage anyone to do the same.
Rob Watts, PGA Golf Professional